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A Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development with Nonprofits

Change Management at the Heart of Consulting & Managing a Nonprofit

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Consulting and managing are more similar than you might think. Taking a consulting viewpoint as a manager might provide some needed distance from the everyday hassles of managing and allow you to focus on what is really important.

For Managers

When I first received my copy of A Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development with Nonprofits by Carter McNamara (Authenticity Consulting, LLC, 2005), I felt overwhelmed. The book is, after all, over 500 pages long and stuffed with information.

However, as I worked through it over a period of days, I began to see its worth.

First, McNamara is a Minneapolis-based advisor to nonprofit organizations and a "consultant to consultants." He has written this book as a "Field Guide." As such, it can be used as a manual or "how-to-do-it" guide and as an encyclopedia of information that consultants can dip into when necessary.

However, this field guide may also be helpful to any nonprofit manager. After all, leading an organization is very much like consulting. I quickly identified a number of sections that would work for leaders/managers such as:

  • Identifying your organization's culture
  • Responsibilities of the board of directors
  • How to work with committees
  • How to evaluate and assess performance
  • How to help groups make meaningful decisions

For Consultants

For consultants, the very first chapter explains the consultant's role and helps the consultant analyze his/her own motivations, skills and values.

Ensuing chapters provide a clear explanation of the nature of nonprofits, from organizational structures to their living cultures.

The meat of the book revolves around how to do collaborative work with those cultures. Finally, there are numerous charts, checklists, sample forms, and pointers to other resources--all of which make this book a vital reference.

McNamara sees change management as the core challenge for consultants (as it is for nonprofit leaders/managers). He explains four characteristics of the change process:

  • A change process is a "journey"....
    It is not predictable and there are many discoveries along the way.
  • The change process is different in every organization - it is customized.
    Change is "context-sensitive" so a cookie-cutter approach will not work.
  • A change process rarely is an "aha!"
    Learning is a process of accretion. Building in periods of reflection will help capture what has been learned.
  • A change process usually takes longer than you think.
    Cultural change can be like changing someone's personality--it is not done overnight.

What may seem like just another consultant's kit of techniques, turns out to be well-considered, value- laden insight into the lives of nonprofit organizations, and a road map for successful organizational change. Consultants and nonprofit leaders alike will find a lot to treasure in McNamara's "Field Guide."

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